Monday, July 1, 2013

Worship God, and not your emotions

I have heard it as a lament time and again that our Catholic Liturgy is staid, slow, repetitive and boring.  And these are just some of the repeatable adjectives that I am willing to put in writing.  Some are just rude, almost bordering on vulgar.  Oftentimes, these descriptions are used by the Catholics who have been baptized and confirmed in the faith, and some time down the road, left the Church for one of the glitzy mega churches, where each Sunday’s worship is a well produced and orchestrated affair of lights, camera and action.  While the patient, gentle (when I can restrain myself) and kind side of me listens to the litany of complaints of how our Catholic sense of worship is so ‘fuddy duddy’, slow and ‘lame’, the theologian in me often needs to pull all the reins to stop me from lambasting the complaining and sometimes whinging apostate that he or she ‘just doesn’t get it’ when it comes to the true spirit of worship.

 The truth is that our Catholic liturgy is so rich – in history, form and meaning.  However, this is something that is not easily appreciated by someone who is present at the Eucharist for the first time.  If I could use a metaphor to express this better, it would be akin to a non art-lover being taken to a Picasso or Gauguin exhibit for the first time, where even though the person could be standing in front of a masterpiece, there would be no appreciation at all for the depth of beauty and form of what is before him or her.  Rare would it be that an art newbie or greenhorn would immediately understand and fully appreciate Picasso’s Cubism or Gauguin’s Post-Impressionism.  But if one were to have paid attention to an art initiation class or have some exposure to art history, one’s appreciation of the wonderful works of art in the gallery would be so much the richer.  The same goes for any art for that matter, like the Opera, or the Ballet. 

But when one has not been well exposed to the Liturgy, and has not from a young and impressionable age been taught what the Liturgy does to us, does with us, and does to the participating community, it is no wonder that post confirmands have the tendency to leave the Catholic Church for something that appears far more engaging and ‘entertaining’ to the untrained heart.  That these teens were actually confirmed in their faith leaves me wondering what they understood as a confirmation and all that it signified.

I am of the opinion that the main problem is really a combination of secularism, relativism and egotism.  At the heart of these three evils that the Church faces is the overwhelming need for the unenlightened individual to worship not God but the self.  When I am at my charitable best, I can understand that there is an almost irrepressible need for one to put one’s needs and demands above all else.  It is a very prevalent evil, and is almost too easy to justify.  The self wants to be in control, to be engaged on all levels, to be doing something that appears ‘relevant’, and not to be told what to do.  This same self is also terribly impatient and allergic with anything that has rules or rubrics, perhaps because these things can cramp one’s personal style or worse, show up one’s weaknesses or one’s limited moral horizon.  Leaving the Catholic Church to go somewhere else where one is ‘entertained’ and ‘engaged’ at all sensorial levels throughout the service often reveals that one has given up the struggle to see our steadfast God working slowly and steadily.  Rarely have I heard that one has left the Catholic Church because another place of worship offers a more disciplined and contemplative approach to prayer and adoration.  Among Christian churches, ‘discipline’ and ‘contemplative’ seem to be something particular and unique to the Catholic faith.

It would be tempting to pin the blame for this kind of exodus on a single group – bad parenting, deficient catechesis, haphazard celebration of the Mass by the priest, or appalling preaching standards.  After all, doing that would easily exonerate those of us who do not fall into any of those blameworthy causes.  However, the painful truth is that we are all co-responsible for each Catholic’s exodus, because in truth, we are all members of the broken body of Christ.  Yes, the individual may have made the choice to leave the community, but this community is made up of you and me.  How we have lived, worshipped and cared for one another affects in no small way how each person encounters the living God in a real and true way. 

Is there a simple solution to this problem?  Would that there is one.  In reality, there is no simple solution because this kind of exodus took a lot of time to reach that critical point.  However, we do have one comfort and that is that it is only with God’s grace that one makes that turnaround in life to return to the broken community that one was baptized into, and to re-appreciate the faith with new eyes and a new heart.  Without God’s grace at work in a receptive heart, no matter how clever a theologian may be, no matter how clear one can explain the Liturgy with its depth of meaning and beauty, the individual concerned will only hear words that rests on the ears, but not a rediscovery that beckons the heart and stirs the soul. 

Linked to all that has been said of this issue thus far is the fact that for many who have left, and perhaps even for those who stay, the problem is that we have been largely worshipping our emotions and not God.  When we are so attached or addicted to our emotions, we may end up even being physically in Church at a Mass, but silently and secretly worship our emotions.  If we understand that our emotions are but a part of our humanity, and that we are not our emotions, we would have made that crucial and critical step toward the true worship of God who is so outside of ourselves, and at the same time, so much closer to our hearts than we even know.  


  1. Hi Fr Luke,
    Good to see pics of you on FB at the Ordination of Fr Adrian Danker.
    My first time at yr blog was when you mentioned about how our youths after Confirmation, started gg to Mega-churches. I took the opportunity then to share with you my son's journey after Confirmation; though he remained firmly in the Catholic Church as he loved the Catholic Liturgy etc, he became more rebellious and begaan to pain us a lot in other areas.
    Without "blaming" anyone, I think what you decribe is S-O, S-O REAL. Many of us get carried away with our emotions, our need to feel good and high at worship and when we don't, we say the Mass is boring, slow, lame, out of touch with the real world and many other things...
    Coupled with the highly charged sight and sounds of the Mega churches, many get attracted to them... My 2 cts worth.. we really need to look inward and see what is happening. Our Liturgy is so rich and full of meaning ...BUT how often is it explained by parents, to children (first step surely), catechists to catechism students, priests to congregation.. Catholics to find out why we do what we do and not just rely on "becos Priests/Parents/Teachesrs say... do we experience it for ourselves, do we find out for ourselves, do we make the effort to do it.
    In our other learning journeys through school/life, surely we don't just ONLY rely on others to teach us. If we not satisfied with the answer/experience, don't we go out there and find and look. Ain't it easier now with the INTERNET and all. But sadly many use the INTERNET only for other pleasures ...
    Hope I didn't sound too offensive, but my pet peeve is that how to help people/parents/ teens to want to go out there and ask and look and feel their way to such richness and beauty in our Catholic Liturgy and worship.
    Thanks Fr Luke and God Bless you on your journey that the LORD has in store for you. My prayers remain always that the LORD will strengthen you and keep you close to HIM in whatever situation HE might have in store for you!!

  2. I cannot help but agree Fr Luke! You are certainly not alone. I too am learning to be charitable to these unfair criticisms directed towards the Church. I know that your words have not been chosen lightly, and while I would usually consider 'apostasy' to be a serious accusation, in this case you have used it well and in fact it is simply not severe enough to describe the gravity of what the Church faces.

    We have tried many ways such as using to 'modernise' the mass and make the faith and liturgy appeal to youths, but they unfortunately do not work. Instead, we continue to haemorrhage youths to megachurches who - they think - do a better job of "worshipful music" and "speaking to the heart". If I may indulge myself, their music has been nothing like the old hymns that we hear in church that imbue a sense of humility and love of God, but simply ride on nice musical hooks and beats that come straight from secular pop music, with lyrics that fail to educate on what it means to be a God-loving Christian. Furthermore, they are drawn to it because they are not given a moral obligation to do good, but merely vague encouragements to 'love God' and 'love yourself'. They are not given a moral compass to guide them or differentiate right from wrong. In the end, they lapse into sin, and it is so painful to see them descend into - and I hesitate to use this word - immorality, even hating the Church. "By their fruits you will know them", and these are not the fruits I do not want to see the children of our Church bear.

    I truly wish there was a simple solution to this. We have learned to undo some of the damage of what our previous outreach efforts have caused on our mass, and that has helped somewhat in slowing down the loss of youths - the confirmation class I took was very impressed by the chants that our parish started using, and it was a useful and engaging tool in teaching them about the Tradition, and therefore the faith, of the Church. We have even drawn interested youths back in when we started a daily Vespers in the youth ministry. However, it is but only one of many more things we need to do in order to rebuild the House of God.

    The Church continues to be under attack, and we need all the more to remain unyielding and steadfast against those influences. There are many threats that the Church faces, and we need to hold fast and fight back against these forces as we did for many centuries prior. As Archbishop William Goh once said, "The devil is much smarter than we are."

    I will continue to pray for you Fr Luke. It is good to see you better and able to attend Fr Adrian's ordination. May God give you strength. He is not done with you yet. There are souls out there to be saved, and my prayers will go with you. :)

  3. Fr Luke thank you for inspiring! Please continue to blog :)

  4. Hmmmm ... rather self righteous comments, if you ask me.

    The Faithful are not priests or clergy to spend hours and hours trying to figure out the Liturgy. People have their own challenges ... to be a good parent and to be focused on this wonderful vocation as a responsibility given to them by God ... to be a good son / daughter to their aged parent ... to be a good employer, where if you do not stay focused on things, you are jeopardizing your staff's and their families lives ... to be a good colleague ... to be a good friend ... to make a living ... etc, etc.

    Yes, the priests and the clergy have their full time vocations, so do the people at large.

    The priests and clergy have to explain things to the Faithful ... and be in line with the times as well. Using different forms, formats, new media, through fun interaction in Catechism, etc. NOT IN THE CURRENT TOP-DOWN, BORING STIFF, ARROGANT AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS MANNER that exists now. The Whys, The Whens, The Hows, Etc, etc ... these should be delivered to the Faithful and delivered in an effective manner, not in the current ineffective manner, where very little gets in and very little stays in.

    Sure, should not think of following even slightly the ways of Prosperity Christianity groups, which to me, provides false teaching of the Bible ... but we certainly can make teaching (like Children's Catechism, Adult Catechism, etc) more lively, more interactive, using new media, etc, etc.

    Sure, the Devil is much smarter than most of us ... but that does not mean we have to just lie down and let the Devil use a steam-roller over us !! We can beat the Devil if we only learn to be cunning for God, to do God's will. And we certainly cannot achieve this with the way teaching is looked at, by the Priests and Clergy, which are outdated, boring and totally not in tune to what is going on at ground levels.

    1. Dear Brother/Sister in Christ,

      I hear where you’re coming from. No one likes the hypocrisy and self-righteousness that enters the Church due to our human weaknesses and pride. However, to be extremely scrupulous in our use of these terms may often hinder us from seeing the point of others. What you say too can be interpreted by some as “self-righteous”. For example, I’m sure a “Prosperity Christian” will not appreciate your comment about his/her “false teaching of the Bible”.

      Allow me to share some of my view points as a young Catholic. There are some interesting points that you highlighted that I can relate to and agree with. However there are others that I can’t fully agree with.

      1)"The Faithful are not priests or clergy to spend hours and hours trying to figure out the Liturgy."

      I have had the privilege of speaking to many priests and seminarians over the past few years. Most of them seem to share one common fear; that they would not have enough time for personal prayer and reflection. Perhaps one could expect people in religious orders to be continuously in prayer, meditation and reflection. However for diocesan priests, this is not possible. With the number of duties that they have every day to perform and with countless emergencies popping up, quiet time for prayer does not come by easily. Remember, a Diocesan priest is a priest of the people. He often has to put his people’s spiritual needs ahead of his own. Occupational hazard.

      There are lay people who spend hours in prayer. Countless others who take it upon themselves to delve into religious teachings in a quest to understand the Church’s stand on issues like homosexuality, sexuality, contraception, abortion, marriage and other issues that challenge us to deepen our Catholic faith.

      2)"Yes, the priests and the clergy have their full time vocations, so do the people at large."

      Catholic theology teaches us that we all have one primary vocation; that is to be saints. We are called to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. A tall order if you ask me. The Priesthood, Religious Orders, Married life and a Generous Single Vocation are our secondary vocations that we are called to take part in. Sacramental marriage challenges men and women to make God the centre of their relationship just as Priests and the Religious are called to depend on God for strength.

      3)"The priests and clergy have to explain things to the Faithful ... and be in line with the times as well. Using different forms, formats, new media, through fun interaction in Catechism, etc. NOT IN THE CURRENT TOP-DOWN, BORING STIFF, ARROGANT AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS MANNER that exists now."

      I agree with this point. Not everyone has the intellectual capacity to understand certain moral doctrine by simply listening attentively like what we learn in the classroom in our Schools and Educational Institutions. There has to be interactive ways in which theological doctrine can be simplified for the layman.

      With that said however, priests and theologians are human. They have their limitations. There are some theologians who can explain things with great simplicity but with remarkable accuracy. While some of the lay people may find this enriching and engaging, others may find it simplistic and rudimentary. There are theologians who go deep into all forms of theology with a “lecture-style” format. While some may relish the experience of being challenged intellectually by a learned theologian, others may find him completely incomprehensible and perhaps even arrogant. In short, a priest in his ministry can touch many lives but he can never please everyone. I am sure we can all relate to this.


    2. 4)"we certainly can make teaching (like Children's Catechism, Adult Catechism, etc) more lively, more interactive, using new media, etc, etc."

      I am not sure if you have attended a Children’s Catechism session recently, but let me assure you that things have changed from the time of my parents. Catechism is no longer about feeding children theological doctrine. It now seems to focus more on a mild form of Phenomenology where children are asked to share their stories, troubles, hurts and struggles. I’m only in my early 20s, so I did experience this wonderful form of Catechism. Many of my friends were actually inspired by what they learnt in Catechism class so much so that they formed study groups after completing their formal Catechism classes. These groups study things like “Theology of the Body”, the various encyclicals such as “Humanae Vitae”, “Deus Caritas Est” and “Evangelium Vitae”. And these groups are large! I believe it is the general secularism that has engulfed us that has brought many of us young people to the realisation that the Church’s teachings that some may call “regressive” are holding us back from things that promise us instant gratification but do not lead to true happiness and joy in Christ. Many find answers in deep moral theology that teaches us “The Whys, the Whens, The Hows”. In my opinion, one cannot appreciate the answers to these questions if he/she does not take the time to not only learn and study, but to ponder and reflect upon these teachings.

      5)"And we certainly cannot achieve this with the way teaching is looked at, by the Priests and Clergy, which are outdated, boring and totally not in tune to what is going on at ground levels."

      I’m not really sure of the context here. What exactly in our teachings is “outdated, boring and totally not in tune with what is going on at ground levels”? I personally find it interesting that people from my parents’ generation find Church teaching’s outdated while many of the people from mine find them enriching, insightful and very relevant. It seems to be the younger generation of Catholics who were more receptive to Pope Benedict’s revision of the “Order of Mass” and to his emphasis on the traditional “Latin Mass”. (

      I would like to just end by saying that this is just my opinion and my observations as a Catholic living in Singapore.

  5. In the post above, I believe Fr Luke's main point is not to let emotions be the “ be all-end all” in our Catholic liturgy. However, I was hoping if he could further explain what role emotions play in mass, if any at all. Much of what is covered later seems to be how detrimental emotions can be .

    For me, I believe that we should use all our senses, our whole self, in the worship of God. Be it our faculties of emotion or intellect or spiritual, be it our senses of hearing, seeing, smelling, through our postures , through our voices, use them all to worship God in the Eucharist.

    But just like in physical human development, some senses, faculties are more acute or dominant in different stages of life. A baby can hear better than see. A youth can feel (emotionally) more than think (intellectually) about the Mass. An adult , hopefully, can use every faculty, sense and action to engage himself in worship.

    Perhaps we shouldn’t deny ourselves of the importance /role that emotion play during mass, but give it due space to participate and engage wholly in the worship process.

    In other words, during mass, why not let the praise music lead us to a joyful state of gathering, let the Word of God pierce our hearts, the stirring homily to identify the areas in lives to change, then worship music to bring us a more contemplative state for Eucharist, where we are moved deeply by the mystery of our God’s incarnation, death and resurrection, awed by the reception of the body and blood of Christ, send away joyfully to spread the message of God.

    Of course, it is only possible to fully participate in worshipping when our emotions (don’t run amok ) are also guided by our intellect, using our knowledge of the Bible , salvation history, our developed Conscience to see what we are, the depth of our spiritual lives , etc.

    Total emotion – attending a pop/rock concert
    Total intellect - critic at an art museum

    Combine these, with many more gifts from God, and the Eucharist will never be the same again!

    On a final note, I would like to express once again, that our Church is made up of many parts, some like the youth are more receptive to certain elements of worship (you know what I mean!). I hope the Church (all of us) can appreciate their level of spiritual development, be charitable and generous in giving them their place /space / approach to worship. So that one day, they too after being nourished by God through years of Eucharist, will grow deeper in faith and come to a fuller understanding of the richness and depth of Catholic Liturgy.

    1. Thank you Frederick, for your heartfelt response and comment. I truly believe that what you said is spot on and very valid, and needs some clarification on my part. My reflection on this matter may seem lopsided and biased towards a non-emotive faith is largely because I was aware that if I addressed too many matters in one blog post, it would make it a tad long for the reader. As such, perhaps it was very apt and timely that you raised this issue as a comment, allowing me to write an addendum to my post.

      First of all, let me make it crystal clear that in matters of faith, it is most tempting for many (priests and lay) to have an ‘either/or’ approach. In other words, with regard to this issue of emotions and the intellect, it is far easier for one to make that complete swing to either one or the other side of this ‘pendulum’. This perhaps explains why there are camps of people who are either so caught up in the frenzy of emotive worship (and these can often mistakenly characterize what a true Charistmatic Christian is) or Christians who abhor and stay clear from anything that asks of one to be in touch with one’s inner emotions and instead, prefer to stay at matters which fill the head and the intellect when it comes to God, worship and religion.

      When we recognize this temptation and why it is there, we will become more open to the ways of God, and the ways to God, which really require a delicate balance of both. Instead of ‘either/or’, it really is a ‘both/and’. For anyone who is so attached to an extreme end of this pendulum of worship, the challenge is to let go of what keeps one secure and perhaps even artificially confident, and to also see the dangers which can result from this attachment. One of the very apparent dangers is a sense of hidden or even blatant self-righteousness.

      Secondly, I also do agree that because we are in reality worshipping God in spirit and in truth, we need to bring both our head and our heart to God. It is never going to be a complete ‘us’ when we check one or the other at the door of the Church. We just need to be fully conscious that no one single part of us becomes the raison d’etre of our worship. How do we know this? When we are either addicted to our emotions and want a ‘repeat performance’ of an experience that we were graced to have once before, or when we dismiss any experience of ours or others as a figment of the imagination, and find ourselves cynical. That critical balance is in fact something that is so necessary but also something that we don’t really find much comfort in because balance requires submission and trust.

      Thirdly, as in most things spiritual, we have to learn the hard way. We have to learn through the mistakes that we have made, and are mature enough to admit that we were either too far left or too far right for our own good. When that is our sincere confession, we will realize that it is through our mistakes that we have grown, and that the mistakes were in reality a very necessary step towards our ‘second half of life’. We would like to get it right the very first time, but rarely is this the case. Only very specially graced people (and usually those who are without original sin) really get it right the first time. The rest of us get it, and then don’t, and then get it. Like most things, it is a learning curve.

      Sorry to have made this response like another blog entry, but as you can see, this issue is really so broad and deep that we cannot exhaust it all at once. That is because it has to do with life – something that is just as broad and just as deep.

  6. Prayer, committed prayer. Pledge an hour a day or at least half, to the Lord. The best gift i gave and is still giving to my two daughters, my spouse, is that daily prayer. And God will be God.

    Thanks frLuke, the mentor of my committed prayer.


  7. Pope Francis said it best, "True prayers take us out of ourselves."


  8. Thank you Fr Luke for the affirmation..God bless you!

  9. “..............the problem is that we have been largely worshipping our emotions and not God......”

    Some years ago, a priest-catechist taking an RCIA session on The Mass/Eucharist announced in no uncertain terms that Liturgy means ‘public work’ which was quite intriguing as this would translate our attending of Sunday Mass into a ‘public work’ of worship! I was mildly amused at first but on reflection I felt that it changes the way I view this act of worship. There is now a shift in it is not all about ‘me’ now but all about Him that I come to honour and worship.

    So at the Eucharist, I gather with other believers knowing the presence of the Divine in all things and that through the paschal mystery, I am given the chance to be called back to a state of complete oneness in Him. Thus, the ritual of Mass makes explicit what is implicit......the community, the Scripture readings, the music and even perhaps, (hopefully) the homily , somehow bespoke an ‘inter-connectedness’.......that spells ‘‘wholeness’’ the Catholic Sunday worship is unlike that of the other Christian denominations. We cannot therefore compare our Sunday worship with theirs as we are not there for a spiritual high or to have our present state of consciousness affirmed or heightened. We are there to worship in all honesty........praying, chanting, singing to the best of our ability...........even if we may not be nightingales or larks but mere burung pipit !

    God bless you, Fr


  10. Hi Fr Luke,I must thank God for you cos' I have been reading your entries and I personally feel many people will benefit from reading them. I have. I'd like to share what a friend from one of the mega churches told me.Sometime in 2006 (I wasn't baptised yet but had started attending Mass), I visited this friend and in the course of conversation I mentioned that I was attending Mass every Sunday. He asked me why I was choosing the Catholic faith and went on to tell me to attend the sunday service at his church.It was supposedly highly-charged and he said that it was like attending a rock concert.My reply was if I had wanted to attend a rock concert, I would know where to go. He then said that the way we worship is boring and sedate.The church is a place of worship and praise! Honestly,I felt disgusted then but I realise now that one's perception, attitudes and relationship with God are sometimes based on the values they are brought up on and their need for indulgence to make up for what is lacking within themselves on a psychological and emotional level.To me,to be in close communion with God requires stripping away the layers of 'muck' which we accumulate throughout our life.But whatever it is, I do hope people will be enlightened.The Catholic faith is so misunderstood.I just finished reading 'Rome Sweet Home' by Scott and Kimberley Hahn.Simply beautiful.And I have fallen in love with the Catholic faith!As for God, my love affair with him started years ago and now,I am able to see how the pieces of the puzzle fit.Lastly,you carry on with your blog Father.Your illness is giving you the experience and grace to heal other souls and I will keep you in my prayers.Take care

  11. Entertainment and charismatic worship even has no place in Catholic worship especially at the Holy Mass or worship service (referring to other denominations). We do not come to be entertained with glitzy performances, just a simple but profound sermon (if the priest can do this)combining the gospel readings with the practicalities of living in a secular world, together with the other essentials of Holy Mass is sufficient for the faithful. That is why the services of mainstream christian denominations and new age "christian" denominations will never attract me. God bless you Fr.


  12. Maybe the lack of choice as a cradle catholic reduces the ability to appreciate the liturgy as it was meant to be? Appreciation of the Art, we have a choice. Also we need Liturgists who can be the "Picasso"!of the church in every church so that we can appreciate the beauty within the catholic dogmas. I think we lack the "Picassos'" if the Singapore Archdiocese can find 32 of these and plant them in every church in Singapore, mandating the same "art" we should be able to recover slowly but surely.